People often ask questions when they are really making statements.

Sometimes this is intentional, but mostly people don’t even realize they are communicating in this way. At face value a question is a request for information or clarification. A statement disguised as a question is about the dynamics between the sender and the receiver.

Examples:

  • a) Do you feel like seeing a movie tonight?

May actually mean:

I want to see a movie tonight, and I want someone to go with me.

Or

I want to do something, but I’m reluctant to ask you directly because you might reject me.

  • b) Are you leaving now?

May actually mean:

I don’t want you to leave now, but I am shy about saying so.

  • c) Don’t you have to be somewhere at 8:00?

May actually mean:

I want you to leave now so I can get back to what I was doing.

  • d) Did you take out the garbage?

May actually mean:

I want you to take out the garbage.

  • e) Are you coming to bed soon?

May actually mean:

I’m feeling randy, and I’m hoping I can entice you into making love.

  • f) Have you done your homework?

May actually mean:

If you have not done your homework, you’re going to be in trouble, because I need you to do well in school.

  • g) What are you doing?

Usually means:

I don’t like what you’re doing!

But depending on the tone, it could mean:

I really like what you are doing!

Usually the person being asked this kind of question takes it at face value, as a request for information, and answers accordingly.  This may develop into an argument that neither want to have on a topic that is not the real issue.

If a husband asks his wife “Do you have to go out tonight?” she may explain that she has made a commitment and needs to keep it. “I promised Janie I’d have coffee with her.” or “ I need to get groceries.” The conversation may escalate into an argument about whether or not she really has to go or that she is going out too much. Perhaps the husband feels neglected and perhaps she feels he’s trying to control her.

What the husband is may be saying is “We’ve both been really busy lately, and I would like to spend some time with you.”  If he had made this statement, his wife would know what is really going on with him and be able to respond to the real issue.  She could generate options. She could set up a time to be together soon.  She could come home early.  She could put off what she was going to do to another time.  Depending on the situation, she could invite him to go with her.  Now the couple is communicating clearly with each other.  Each feels cared about rather than frustrated.

 

All too often the person asking the questions already knows the answer.

  • a)   Did you eat a cookie? (In a harsh tone to a child with cookie crumbs on her face.)

The child, sensing the parent is angry, denies it. This sets the child up to lie. Now the issue shifts from cookie eating to lying – harmful to the relationship.

It is better to make a statement:  I see cookie crumbs on your face.  This sets children up to tell the truth and maintain good relations between adult and child.

 

  • b)   Were you in my workshop? (In an accusing tone knowing spouse had rearranged things.)

A question asked this way means: The workshop is my domain, and I do not want you to do anything to it.

Better to make a clear statement: You cleaned up my workshop.  I appreciate the intent, but I want you to leave that to me.  I like to organize it the way that I want.

 

Usually a question is just a question – a request for information. But many questions are really disguised statements with the sender’s real message hidden within them. When that happens people can feel interrogated, manipulated, attacked or put on the spot. When questions are disguised statements a person can feel set up and get defensive. These kinds of questions create resentment which leads to lots of arguments and poor communication. After awhile others become wary of any questions. Before long relationships deteriorate.

By making statements instead of asking questions communication remains clear. The real issues are more likely to get addressed in a friendly, respectful and even caring manner.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea Mackay

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